What Makes a Good Ballet Teacher?

There are so many types of teachers out there, it is important that parents and students know what they are getting. After working across the United States and talking to parents and students, I’ve realized that when it comes to ballet, a lot of people are getting ripped off, majorly ripped off. It is almost depressing. So, what makes a good teacher? What makes a great teacher? What are the differences in teachers? And how, as a dance teacher, do you make yourself better?

What makes a good ballet teacher

What is a Ballet Teacher? This is such a vague term… like such a vague term. Some teachers use certificates to justify their credentials… like the ABT National Training Certification or the RAD levels… Unfortunately, this doesn’t make them good teachers. Also, just because they were a principal dancer… that doesn’t make them a good teacher either. And, just because you have a Russian affiliation doesn’t make you a good teacher. And just because you graduated from a top ballet school doesn’t make you a good teacher either. Additionally, just because you have a college degree in dance or dance pedagogy or something random like a BFA from a random school; doesn’t mean you are going to be a good teacher.

Being a ballet teacher is hard because ballet itself is diverse. The pedagogy, ideology, and science differs accordingly based on each person. Sometimes this a good thing, sometimes it is a horrible thing and waste of money for parents. Not all pedagogies are created equally. and not all bodies can do any pedagogy.

What makes a good ballet teacher?
Multi-tasking: A good ballet teacher usually is someone who can inspire an entire class, while concentrating on the individual needs of each student, all while maintaining a precise curriculum.
Good Eyes: A good ballet teacher has a keen eye for body placement, alignment and can find minuscule errors when a child dances.
Good Ears: A good ballet teacher understands music and can hear multiple melodies and rhythms within a song.
Educated: A good ballet teacher understands anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Teachers should be able to prevent injuries with healthy technique and should guarantee well-shaped bodies.
Experience: Has experience within the professional world of ballet. It is important to have these experiences so you can help guide students into the professional world.
Connected: A good ballet teacher is still plugged into the ballet world, so they understand what is happening and what the industry is needing, wanting and demanding.
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What makes a great ballet teacher?
A good sculptor
: An exceptional ballet teacher can see beyond what is directly in front of them and can reshape the body and pull out the ballet technique from their students. This quality is actually very hard to find.

Don’t get me wrong, we need regular ballet teachers out there… but the problem is, that in today’s market of dancers, teachers have to be exceptional and create exceptional dancers. It isn’t good enough to just teach a plié by saying it means “to bend” and then demonstrate the bending of the knees. You physically have to get on your hands and knees, and explain that it is a constant action because it is a verb. It never stops, and it isn’t initiated from the knees, a plié comes from the pressure in the hips rotating outwards and the muscles rotating back, without strain, so much that it causes the knees to bend. The fact that the femur head has to be inside the pelvis, the weight placement has to be so precise. And the depth of the plié has to be controlled from the achilles without pronating or “rolling” of the feet.

  • If your ballet teacher just walks around the room and gives general corrections… bad teacher.
  • If your teacher sits in a chair and just directs and yells… bad teacher… maybe better off to be a director.
  • If your teacher can’t explain the physics and science behind ballet… bad teacher.
  • If you are noticing your muscles shaping to be large or bulky… super bad ballet teacher.. and if they tell you it’s genetics… just walk out.
  • If your teacher tells you that it’s normal to be injured and you have to work through it… HORRIBLE TEACHER!! GET OUT BEFORE YOU BREAK YOUR BODY.
  • If your teacher tells you that you will never be a dancer… definitely get the hell out there.

What is a Master Teacher? a master teacher is someone who has dedicated quite a bit of time and energy on their craft of teaching and has become recognized as one of the greats. Usually, these wonderful people are specifically focused on technique. This title usually refers to someone who has honed their skills as a teacher, and was able to create a method to improve or change the ballet technique for the better. They are everything mentioned above and magnified. To note some of America’s best: Bruce Marks, Finis Jung, Willy Burmann, Marcia Dale Weary and the late David Howard. (I’m not claiming I’m a master teacher, but this is the category I have fallen into, not really by choice.)

…Faculty– Faculty is usually associated with a school, specifically a school with a solid curriculum. A faculty is usually pieced together based on educational credentials, and each faculty member brings something different to create an overall aesthetic or pedagogy of teaching.

…Coach– A coach usually focuses on one thing. Each coach has a specialty, like stretching or port de bras, artistry or turns.

…Ballet Master/ Ballet Mistress– by definition this person is employed by a ballet company to teach and rehearse dancers. Note, you have to employed by a ballet company… a real one. These professionals have usually danced a full repertory and they share their experiences with other dancers in terms of coaching for a role. (Such hard work, I do this too… and it’s exhausting.)

…Répétiteur– Is someone in the craft of staging and translating ballets. Being a répétiteur is one of the hardest jobs in ballet because you have to know everyone’s part, and what is going on at all times on the stage. Their focus isn’t really technique, but production and precision. (I have just started staging full ballets and translating them onto companies and schools, and I have to say, it is a lot of work. Like a lot of work.)

…Director– Someone with a vision… This doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best teacher. Directors have the ability to see an artistic vision and execute it. Usually, they are also decent teachers, decent repetiteurs and have ballet mastered at some point.

…Guest Teacher– Usually, a big name dancer/teacher coming in to share experiences, tips and more. Guest teachers usually have a different take on students as they are there for 3 hours and then they are gone. They are brought in to supplement the training and inspire students. Guest teachers help try to assess and push the kids as hard as they can in a very short amount of time.

If you are a teacher and you want to better yourself, for your school, students and your own self fulfillment.. If you are interested in the Ballet Education Curriculum or Ballet Education Teacher Training Workshop, feel free to contact me here.


Don’t forget I’m teaching in Los Angeles today!! Click the Image to Pre-Register!
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YEAR 1 … Done.

FALL 2017

Issue 6 Featuring Tegan Chou

6 Issues 1 crazy year. When I started the magazine I was living in California, then Phoenix, and now issue six is published from Charleston. What a crazy whirlwind! But how wonderful! With so many subscribers and followers, we were able to lower the cost of the subscription to the magazine! Which is exciting!

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Still too expensive? Don’t worry, this entire month JOOmag Publishers are giving us 50% off, which means you get 50% off. Just use the coupon code: K0LBKWTVBUL4
Sorry, it is so long! But it is worth it.

This year a Ballet Education has five really big things coming up…
1. A Ballet Education’s YouTube Channel & Tutorials
2. A Ballet Education’s Teacher Workshops
3. A Ballet Education’s Master Class Series
4. A Ballet Education’s A Ballet Magazine getting even bigger
5. A Ballet Network’s great list of clients to work with.


sucess ballet

thug life

 

Days 1, 2 & 3 at ANB

It has been a whirlwind… A very chaotic whirlwind to get to American National Ballet, but I am here. Things are moving so fast for being a new company. SOOO fast. I arrived at the airport and because my flight was delayed I was immediately picked up, I had to leave my luggage behind and whisked away to work. Sooo, that was Saturday… I worked into the night Saturday, all day Sunday. Sunday consisted of photographing American National Ballet Principal Kara Zimmerman. Day 3, today consisted of a 13-hour workday and running around like a crazy person. Seriously there is so much work, but it is so exciting. As I am planning the trainee school year I am super stoked. Amazing and beautiful talented students are coming to train with me and I am truly humbled and excited to work with them. I only have 1 girl spot left and 2 boy spots left. So if you want to come train with me and the American National Ballet, don’t forget to email dking@americannationalballet.org kara 16

Honoring the legend, the man, the humble Julio Bocca.

On Friday night, at the Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater, the ballet world came together to celebrate one man: Julio Bocca. Most nights at the ballet are great, but this night was exceptional. The night began with the crowd filling the lobby of Lincoln Center, the entire ballet world seemed to be there. Among the faces in the crowd were Julie Kent, Isabella Boylston, Lauren Lovette, Stella Abrera (who was nominated for a Prix Benois de la Danse for her performance as Aurora in the Sleeping Beauty), The Olsen Twins, and more. The evening promised to be one of excitement as the playbill listed a long list of principal star dancers. With that many principals, it promised to be a stellar night.

The evening opened with projections of various dancers from around the world wishing Julio Bocca a happy birthday while in front dancers were planning a party and toasting. As it all wound down, there was Marcello Gomes who gave the opening speech. A speech about inspiration and the admiration he has for such a great dancer. He then danced with Luciana Paris in Twyla Tharp’s My Way from Sinatra Suite. This was followed by ballroom dancers Cecilia Figaredo and Hernan Piquin dancing to Michelangelo 70 by Astor Piazzolla. NYCB’s Joaquin De Luz came out to talk about Mr. Bocca and was followed by him dancing Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances with Tiler Peck. A series of beautiful solo variations and cute playfulness engulfed Lincoln Center.

JULIO BOCCA: A TRIBUTE TO A DANCE LEGEND

Next, another video of Julio Bocca describing what it was like to dance Romeo and Juliet with Natalia Makarova. This was followed by a letter and voice clip from the Swan Queen herself. It started with a video of Natalia in the balcony scene with Marcelo Gomes being her Romeo. This was then followed with Maria Riccetto (Ballet Nacional SODRE and formerly ABT running out). The two performed MacMillan’s luscious pas de deux. Have not seen her dance since she left ABT, but she has definitely grown as an artist. It was adorable and fresh, everything a Juliet should be. Marcelo pushed his jumps and turns insanely during the opening solo. It was just beautiful dancing.

 

Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz performed the Final Pas e Deux from Bells by Yui Possokhov. Her beautiful red Leo showcased her ridiculous ferocious body and her unbelievable movement quality.

JULIO BOCCA: A TRIBUTE TO A DANCE LEGEND
photo by VAM, courtesy of the YAGP

This was followed by Julio Bocca’s thoughts on DON Q, and started with a video of Mr. Bocca and Tamara Rojo performing the exciting pas de deux. Emerging from the wings was Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez of English National Ballet. The two dazzled the crowds with insane balances, never ending pirouettes, triple fouettes, and a sassy playfulness on Ms. Rojo’s part. It was probably the best Kitri I have ever seen.

 

Gonzalo Garcia of NYCB performed the solo from Mambo Suite, a fun and male flirty variation. Followed by Nina Ananiashvili of State Ballet of Georgia performing Lekuri, a Soviet folk dance in pointe shoes. Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luz came back out to performing the opening of Black Swan Pas De Deux. The audience wanted more but they only did the pas de deux. Her take on black swan is more sly and sleek, befitting to her body.

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Photo by VAM, courtesy of the YAGP

Lucia LaCarra and Marlon Dino performed Spiral Twist by Russell Maliphant. This gorgeous, gorgeous pas de deux was complex and intricate. Somewhere between ballet and figure skating the piece was intellectual and thought-provoking for the audience. No pointe shoes, just simple gray costumes, the two moved so elegantly and so luscious that the audience went wild.

 

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Photo by VAM, courtesy of the YAGP

 

Luciana Paris and Rodrigo Colomba (Teatro Folklorico Nacional-Argentina) performed Presente, a world premier by Analia Gonzalez. This super sexy pas de deux made for a very entertaining number. He was strong, supportive, and so into her, it turned the audience on. It was so sexy. His large hands all over her tiny waist and body… She danced in just a long sleeve leotard, he danced in pants and a tank top… Oooh, hot and bothered all over again.

Isabelle Guerin and Manual Legris, former etoiles of Paris Opera, danced Farewell Waltz. A very subtle pas de deux about the end of life. She is everything I have ever imagined about watching her dance life. Slick and effortless technique. He was everything he needed to be, strong but insecure, effortless but distraught.

Vitor Luz performed Percussion 4 from Bob Fosse.

The night ended with all of the dancers toasting Julio Bocca on stage. For most of the young YAGP competitors, they probably didn’t know who Julio Bocca was until now. But, if they could take anything away from the evening it was the humility and thoughtfulness of this man. Everything that was said about him reflected his genuine qualities, his humble attitude, and his never ending hard work.

www.YAGP.org

//Thank you to everyone who sponsored me to go to the YAGP.

Notes on the Ideal Arabesque & Getting it Higher… part 1

In ballet, there is one position above all others. It is the dreaded, gorgeous and controversial placement known as arabesque. There are a million ways to approach and improve arabesque, but the most important thing about it is to maintain control and show constraint. Below is how I teach arabesque and how to achieve an ideal position.

Notes on ArabesqueArabesque, by definition, is in an Arabic fashion. In design, it refers to ornate patterns used quite frequently in textiles, interior design, and architecture. Okay, in ballet, it is when the dancer is standing (supporting) on one leg, while the second (working) leg is directly behind the body. Arabesque can be done in a variety of different positions based on where the arms are placed, and the facings of the bodies. It can be done at various different heights based on the working leg: a terre, en l’air at any varied of degrees, 45 degrees, 90 degrees and ridiculously high. The supporting leg can be in plié, but the back leg must remain straight and behind the body.

Okay… getting into arabesque… Some teachers like to teach arabesque from developpé while some teachers teach it from fondu. I prefer to teach it from tendu. I also use cambré back so I can combine basics and start teaching arabesque at a younger age. Secondly, I don’t teach arabesque until students can do the splits. Okidokie. Start off with plank for a bit, do some crutches, and the splits. Then the class is ready to move onto arabesque. Usually, my students are able to start and achieve arabesque quickly around the age of six. In the rare occasions, I have seen about eight five-year-olds able to achieve, understand and comprehend the ideal arabesque.

For younger students, I do two hands at the barre, for advanced students I do one hand at the barre at the end of a rond de jamb combination. (click here for rond de jambs)

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(a.)So, we start in fifth position and tendu back.
(b.)From there, lift through the back and cambré back. (You can see the notes to cambré in issue three, click here) Don’t push the hips forward, make sure the standing leg is supported and perpendicular to the floor. Maintain the neck and let the sternum press into the ceiling. Don’t let the hips tip and keep the pelvis in neutral.
(c.) While in this position, maintaining your core, lift the leg as high as you can. Don’t lift from the quad, rotate from the hip and spiral the leg up directly behind the spine. The more rotation from the hip, the higher the leg. Don’t pinch or sit in the back. To make more space, or if you feel like you are running out of space, channel energy through the top of the head and create more space.
(d.) Start from the bottom of your abs and pelvis, and start to contract, maintaining the height of the leg. Start coming up from the cambré, leading with the sternum and creating an arch through the top of your head moving forward. Leave the neck and head where it is.
(e.) Adjust the neck and head, ideally, you should be at a perfect 90-degree arabesque or higher. Your hips should still be in neutral. Your spine and standing leg should make a straight line, your hips shouldn’t need to tilt, spill over, at all, especially at 90 degrees.

Now, onto getting your leg higher…

Getting a higher arabesque

Second part of the exercise… 
(f.) Place the weight slightly forward as you are about to start the plié. I work the leg higher while in plié. This would be the more classical position, by adjusting the back so that the spine and the front of the standing leg are lined up. To do this, you will let your hips tilt slightly forward, adding pressure to the back. Depending on the flexibility of your back, the break in the back will vary. This position is much harder than the position above based on your back.
ideal classical position
(g.) Okay, So leave your foot where it is, exactly at 90. Plié. Leave your foot where it is, but you are adjusting the height of your body. This makes the angle smaller on top. Maintain proper alignment with the knee.
(h.) Plié even more while leaving your foot where it is in space. Keep the alignment behind your spine… I prefer behind the spine while others say behind the shoulder… I like everything over crossed as it creates a diagonal line, and makes the leg look longer. Preference. While at the bottom of the plié start to initiate the spine up and forward and high arabesqueoutwards. So, the energy is flowing slightly forward and then back. This is when I have the students really wing/bevel their foot, and say that the foot and the head are creating a circle and trying to connect.

(i.) Press to relevé and lengthen through the supporting leg. Press into the floor and maintain the position. Ideally, you won’t feel any pressure in the back as you are constantly creating space in the spine and rotation in the hips. Re-align the back so the spine and the front of the standing leg match to visually create a line. Once you are in this position you can slightly raise the arm and eye line.
(pas de bourré and then other side)

ARABESQUES

First arabesque is the most common. I prefer open first but it does put a strain on your spine as it causes you to disconnecting the upper back from your core and spiral open without changing your hip placement. Second Arabesque is the devil position. Third Arabesque is super pretty, especially when the leg is at 45 degrees.

Classical positions require strength and control, it adds quality and allows for musicality. Sometimes, you are allowed to whack the leg, sometimes during grand allegro, or in choreography, depends. Whacking can cause injury or misalignment so I don’t ever recommend it. I’m more of a place it one count. Classically, you want to show constraint with the height in the leg but generosity in the preparation, getting into the position and turn out. Stylistically, the arabesque will change with the placement of the hips, standing leg and back. Click here to see. 

For the older dancer, arabesque can be death. For me it is. My back is completely shot, and have to do Gyrotonics and pilates to even maintain a 90-degree line. Though I have figured a way to improve my arabesque but it’s complicated to draw, so I am going to make a video of my busted self later on.

For young dancers, I know there is so much pressure to have high legs, but I am telling you this method does work! Keep up the good work. Subscribe to the magazine this month for only $9.99
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Notes on Second Position

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Following up on Notes on First Position… Second position is the logical next position to learn, in fact, a lot of students will learn second position prior to first. There is a lot less to mess up in second position. Well, that is a lie.

Second position is just as hard as first position. In second, the lack of rotation or the abundance of rotation is more apparent than first. A large mistake in second position is the width… How wide to make your second. Classical ballet calls for your heels to be under your shoulders, while more contemporary teachers ask for a larger second. The larger the second the more support is needed from the hips and sartorius, especially while trying to plié or maneuver in and out of the position. The width also is relevant to how strong the dancer is. To relevé in this position en pointe, the dancer can only be as wide as they are strong enough to get over the box.

A lot of the same principals apply to second position, but I feel like in second position you have to be higher in the hips because your weight has to be centered while your legs are separated out from the hips. To get higher in the hips you have to really focus on engaging your hip flexors and psoas and keep the hamstrings long and active. You don’t want to sit back in your legs in second, which is a common mistake students make. Keep the pelvis in neutral and the quads relaxed. Don’t ever grip.

energy focusSecond position is also one of the more severe positions because it shows the body in all proportions. Kind of like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, all limbs are spread. Energy has to be channeled from all four limbs and the head. You have to have quite a bit of stretch in the position.

At the same time you have to have quite a bit of control as you have to also have a lot of energy focusing inward. Second position is important as it sets up half of the steps in center. The stronger the position at barre, the stronger the center work will be. Like… glissade, sautebasque, and jete. Regardless, the position has to be strong.

STRENGTHENING SECOND
Pliés in second are an easy way to strengthen the inner thigh and core. Don’t over rotate, don’t let your hips tip, and make sure your knees are aligned with your second toe. Don’t grip your quads, and definitely make sure your weight is centered between your hips, feet, front and back.

Pilates. Focusing on nonweight bearing exercises that go from parallel to turn out in second are extremely helpful. It will also help isolate the proper muscles needed.

SECOND POSITION FOR THE OLDER DANCER
So, normally, second position would be super easy for me. Now that I am older, and my body doesn’t want to just relax into ballet positions, second position puts me in quite a predicament. So, normally, I would have a rather large second position, but as I plié I can feel the strain in my knees. But, when I decrease the width of the position my hips can’t take it. The compromise? Wide second with less turn out. I can stabilize my hips and knees a lot more and even if standing side profile I look stupid, and ridiculously turned in so be it. The last thing I want is to rip up my knees for the sake of losing weight.


Doodle Book 3 Cover

Over two hundred of my doodles. The third book.

EVERY BALLET TEACHER NEEDS THIS…

a vacation… haha just kidding, no really they do, myself included… But who has time these days to go on vacation?

Now for the real post…

As a ballet teacher, I always find it hard to find good ballet music. Sure, there are a lot of great CDs out there, but sometimes the quality is not that great, the tracks aren’t long enough for longer combinations, the tempos don’t make a lot of sense, or they are just structured kind of funny. The reality is, it would be nice to have a pianist that can play by ear and understand how to play with music in correlation to the steps, but if the budget isn’t there it isn’t there. For the past couple years, I have been mixing and matching CDs together and creating my own playlists of different CDs. Some of my favorite accompanists include (Charles Matthews, Alessio De Franzoni, David Plumpton, Nate Fifield and Gill Civil) All of these accompanists are brilliant for ballet class and all for different reasons. But, my newest, and latest and greatest discovery is for VARIATIONS class. This is a must have for every ballet teacher out there. UK based Charles Matthews recently created a collection of CDs that are rehearsal versions of variations for men and women. The collection spans 8 discs but covers literally every variation you will ever need. Specifically, there is a great rehearsal version of Laurencia and his rehearsal version for Talisman. These discs are affordable through his website, and a little more expensive on iTunes, but available. The sound quality is great, and are set at great tempos for all levels of dancing. For beginners it lets the dancers focus on the steps and technique. For the intermediate dancer it allows for the dancer to explore phrasing within the melody. And for for the advance dancer, it allows for artistic exploration within all of the notes he captures from the orchestrated versions.

Another great set of music he created are his ballet class discs as a lot of the music is ballet repertory music, so it helps familiarize students with music from the ballet. It also helps them learn how to recognize music from different ballet scores. It is definitely something worth the purchase, and a great teaching tool. It is also a great companion to the Guide to Variations.

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a ballet education cover

In This Issue… Issue 2

Wonderfully put together, the second issue is finally out featuring collected thoughts on summer programs, auditions, race and more! What can you expect out of this issue? 15 summer programs that actually pay off, ballerinas today, and a wonderful review by Dorothy Crouch.

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NOTES ON ATTITUDE DEVANT: THE TURNOUT POSITION

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NOTES ON ATTITUDE DEVANT: THE TURNOUT POSITION

In ballet, there are a million rules, but within these rules, there is flexibility based on pedagogy or approach. There are ways to “cheat” a position or “fix” or “make it look better than it really is”… All of these ideas are technically not the best thing, but the reality is, that not every body type can achieve certain positions based on the Russian or French Aesthetics/Technique. Now there are two positions in ballet that can’t be cheated, they are two of the hardest positions: Ecarté Derrière and Attitude Devant. The later being used quite often. The hard thing about these two positions is the ability to identify turnout, flexibility and strength without using the spine. In my opinion, attitude derrière is the hardest position in ballet. (you can disagree…)
attitude-devant

So, as a student growing up, I would hear “Shape the foot!” and “Turnout more!” and my favorite one, “You should be able to balance a hot cup of tea on your front foot.” Yes, that is the ideal, but not every bodytype can find that position. Additionally, when I was growing up, teacher would push and prod at my hips, which is probably why I have had to have two hip surgeries. They probably assumed because I had a hypermobile back, that I had flexible hips as well… Which was not true…

Now as a teacher, attitude front has become the bane of my existence. That is a lie, ecarté is. But attitude devant seems to be a position every student struggles with. Here is why:

  1. You have to flexibility in your hamstring, glutes, and hips. In order to have that gorgeous line, your flute has to be flexible enough to release so the hip can rotate the femur head back. With that being said your hamstring can’t get in the way. Your hips also have to have the flexibility to let this process happen without any shift in hips (lateral shifting or tipping) or in core.
  2. A student has to have a strong understanding and grasp on their turnout. If a student doesn’t know how to rotate the hip outwards or laterally, they will struggle with the concept of rotating the leg up, and instead, they grip in the quad and lift. Then with the quad gripped, the leg can only rotate so much, and only gain a certain amount of height.
  3. Students need a very strong and connected core. Because ballet is so core intensive, if you don’t have a connected core, your hips and back can easily become displaced and the dancer will develop poor alignment habits.

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The ideal line of attitude front should be that the heel and the knee should be in a line. If your body can’t achieve the ideal, then it should be higher knee than heel with the most rotation possible. Then for those who are extremely hypermobile or hyperflexible, the rules get bent and the heel becomes the highest point of the line with the knee dropping down towards the floor and so on. This is becoming the standard for attitude front, but the reality is, not everybody can achieve this line. The line of attitude front is hard because of the turnout factor.

So, how do you even get into attitude front? 

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There are a couple of schools of thought. The first being the more common… A lot of schools teach the attitude front from the Sur le coup de pied position. Which is the ideal position of attitude but the leg rotated to 90 degrees. The idea is the rotate the heel forward so much, that the leg has to lift. Without changing the length of the leg or degree of the bend in the knee, you rotate upwards and achieve the line. This creates a very long, and the line goes slightly down from the knee.

The next school of thought is to achieve the attitude through passé. The concept of turnout is the same, but the goal is to keep the 90-degree line of the passé and rotate the hip back into the socket and achieve a tighter attitude. This creates of pressure on the hips, and if you don’t have ideal rotation and flexibility, it will mess your hips up. This creates a very hard line extending from the hips.

Things to avoid when getting to attitude devant? My big concern is the gripping of the quad. When the quad grips instead of lengthening or rotating causes a lot of tension at the hip flexor and the hip joint which unfortunately doesn’t allow the position to grow. Additionally, I dislike when people turn in as they bring the leg up, and then you see the heel or you lose sight the knee at side profile. Hip shifting is also a pet peeve. A lot of people sink into their supporting hip to get the leg up, or their hips aren’t strong enough to hold the position and their hips become wonky. If you are turning out from the hip, it should create a ton of tension to work within to keep the hips stabilized at all times. Avoiding turning in the standing leg, but if you are going to compromise anything in this position, I think slightly turning in the standing leg is the lesser of the evils.

But, I feel the most ideal “cheat” to maintain the technique and the shape of the position is to lift out of the hips and slightly stick your bootie out. NOT SPLAY our sit in your lower back but let the hips slightly tip forward. You have to have a very strong core to do this without looking ridiculous.

BONUS: Add the developpé front by rotating the heel long, and lengthening the back of the knee.

How to get a better attitude front? Get the Attitude Front Technique Tracker here.

Ballet Under The Stars: Ballet Arizona

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Ballet Arizona, a company I named to watch two years ago, performed under the stars last night in Goodyear at a lakeside park. It was gorgeous. It rained that morning, so it was pretty cool in the evening, which was a nice break from the skin burning heat. Their program was the ACT II of IB Andersen’s La Bayadere, Alejandro Cerrudo’s PACOPEPEPLUTO, an outreach performance, and Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements. It promised to be beautiful evening… Plus there were food trucks… Who doesn’t love a loaded waffle? What is better than a loaded waffle? Watching Ballet and eating a loaded waffle. So, let us just dive right in… The evening started off to numerous technical difficulties… Which didn’t bother me, with the exception of all the crazy preschoolers getting wild on the grassy hill. The MC for the night was kind of annoying, and I feel like she didn’t know a lot about the ballet performances… It just was not very good, nor exciting… It didn’t help the mic kept cutting out… Anyways… onto the good stuff and bad stuff—

Bayadere: Jillian Barrell and Nayon Iovino took on Gamzatti and Solor… They were absolutely everything… which unfortunately is the only thing nice I can say about Bayadere. Because of the moisture or something there were a couple of minor slips. During the coda there was a slip/drop of a girl, and so on… Unfortunately, during the Italian fouettés Ms. Barrell didn’t get them in all the way… But she recovered ferociously… She was actually really nice to watch… They did this Indian dance…. it was awful… Bayadere is set in India but the costuming and choreography echoed Native American/African/Showboat… It was just not very well thought out and borderline came off as offensive— but the male corps was ferocious. The female corps of Gamzatti’s friends were turned out with beautiful feet but missing that special something of classical ballet. That elegance, or that refinement of Royal Ballet, the effortless joy of ABT or something… It is just missing the polishing… Alejandro Mendez performed Golden Idol which was nice. But the real standout was Nayon Iovino’s Solor variation. It was beast while the rest of the Bayadere was just… not entertaining. Which is funny because Bayadere is one of the only full length ballets I genuinely enjoy.

PACOPEPEPLUTO: Originally done on Hubbard street this contemporary ballet showcases three men set to Music by Dean Martin and Joe Scalissi. Paco was danced by Nayon Iovino and was nice but lacked quirkiness and seduction. Helio Lima danced Pepe which was beyond fantastic, mesmerizing to be exact: Body Articulation for days…. Alejandro Mendez danced Pluto and was wonderfully quirky, technically brilliant but seemed to lack wanting more. The piece is so short and usually, short contemporary pieces feel too short and you want more dancing… It just needed something else, I just can’t put my finger on it. Though, it was nice because they didn’t look like ballet dancers trying to do contemporary… They had gorgeous articulation and ambitious attack… Just didn’t leave me wanting more.

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They ended the evening with Symphony in Three Movements… Which scared me… Because after Bayadere I was dreading seeing another company botch a Balanchine Ballet… Buuut Arianna Martin and Helio Lima blew it out of the water. Mimi Tompkins was BEYOND GORGEOUS and was everything. She was partnered by Jackson Dwyer. Lauren Flower and Roman Zavarov were pretty spectacular as well. The black leotard couples though were the real stand out. Everything about these ten dancers was spot on. It was absolutely stunning. The corps of long-legged dancers in white leotards was gorgeous as well. It was extremely well danced, technically clean, and musicality was ferocious. Downside… Their company lacks ethnicity among their women… The women and men are extremely thin… Not just ballet thin, but it seems that Ib Andersen like extremely narrow/flat torsos. The company is extremely on the narrow side, and lacked the diversity of body types that you see in other companies. Everyone was extremely hypermobile with beautiful feet, not complaining… Just lacked diversity.

Overall, the performance was nice enough. The setting helped a lot and it was nice to have a night off. Ballet Arizona will be performing the full-length La Bayadere 27-30 with the Phoenix Symphony ad Symphony hall.

In the Beginning…

…there was Catherine de’ Medici. Okay, so that might not be completely true because there were people before her to contribute to the development of ballet… But she can be credited for bringing ballet to France, and for that… we will forever be indebted to Catherine de’ Medici. As I am working hard on my ballet book, I mean it is 4 AM and I am still working… I am reminded that ballet’s history is filled with fun interesting things, that are often forgotten because the majority of ballet history is exhausting to get through. I mean if you look at most ballet books, or ballet history books they are over 400 pages… of pure text…. no offense to the great ballet writers of history, but dear god…. It makes me want to jab my eyes out…. And I LOVE READING…
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corps de ballet confessional: Elizabeth Weldon of Ballet West

By reputation, ballerinas are these willowy, elongated creatures that are unobtainable… That could pretty much sums up Elizabeth Weldon, a corps de ballet member at TV’s most popular ballet company, Ballet West.  With feet to die for, ideal body proportions and musicality that rivals most, she tops it off by being humble in her achievements, gracious in performances, intelligent in her choices and wise through experience. Not to mention she is a poster girl for Bloch.

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I first met Liz as a dancer through CPYB and worked together at Panera Bread. I just remember seeing these long legs hidden behind an apron and this great smile under this ugly khaki/olive colored hat. She had joined the school year later on, or maybe she was there since the beginning but I didn’t really know her or know of her until the later part.  LOL. Not sure, but regardless, our time was brief, but if there was one thing I remember, was how smart she was with the choices she made. So, for those who want to go to college, but people tell you, “You might not have a dance career”… Liz did it all…

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So, what is it like to be Elizabeth Weldon? Here we go!

Name: Elizabeth Weldon
Insta: lizaries13
Company: Ballet West
Company Position: Corps (official company position)
Years in the Company: 6
Previous Companies: Orlando Ballet Second Company
Ballet Education: Boston Ballet, CPYB
Age: 32
Height: 5’8

 

What is your favorite type of sandwich?
Probably a breakfast sandwich. Eggs, cheese, and sausage on an asiago or everything bagel.

You are sponsored by Bloch? Or a Bloch model? How does that happen? Especially as a corps de ballet member? (Don’t get me wrong, you are tall and gorgeous, but just so others know what modeling brings about) What pointe shoe do you wear?
This is an interesting story. A couple years ago I started having a lot of pain in my feet and discovered that my shoes no longer fit, my feet had grown. I was trying to find a shoe that fit my foot and contacted Bloch about being fitted for pointe shoes. They had me send pictures of my feet and after seeing the pictures I sent, they asked me if I would be available to come to NYC to do a photoshoot for their spring Mirella line 2015. It was such an incredible experience! I loved working with the Bloch team. I never would have imagined having the chance to do something like that. Everyone at Bloch was so nice and fun to work with. It’s an experience I will never forget.

I’m not sure what to include about my current shoe situation …. I currently wear Capezios. I am very lucky to have the feet I do, however sometimes it feels like a blessing and a curse. The shoes I currently wear don’t fit my feet and it’s been very frustrating because I feel like it’s the greatest obstacle in my career. I’ve been dancing on shoes that don’t fit for three seasons now. It’s very discouraging. ….   (Finding the right shoe is extremely difficult!)

 

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photo by Joshua, Liz in Nicolo Fonte’s Rite of Spring


What is in your dance bag?
Many, many, pointe shoes! Flat shoes, scissors, duct tape, a nail file, foot powder, and foam roller. I also carry a separate bag with snacks 🙂

 

What is your warm up routine, or process to get ready for class or show?
It changes depending on what we are working on or performing. Before class my warm up is very minimal, just simple stretching to loosen up, or exercises to activate certain muscles. I try to pay attention to my body and give it whatever it seems to need.

You went the nontraditional route… You went to college first. What was that like? Help or hinder?
The answer to this question is a little complex. I think in the big picture of life going to college first helped, but perhaps not for my dance career. However, I loved my experience at college. I made wonderful friends who are still in my life today. I loved learning, and having the chance to figure out who I was as an individual. It also helped me realize how much I love ballet and how much I missed having it in my life. After graduation was when I began to really pursue ballet as a career.

What do you want out of your dancing?
I recently saw a video of David Bowie and he said something that really resonated with me. “Always remember that the reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society.’

Dream role?
I want to do it all! Haha just kidding 🙂 I would love to dance the pas de deux from Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Kylian’s Petite mort is another dream ballet.

What is it like being categorized as a tall dancer?
Oddly enough at Ballet West I’m in the middle height range for the girls. I’ve become accustomed to dancing among so many tall people at BW that I don’t think of myself as tall. We have girls who are over 6’ on pointe and men up to 6’7 tall so comparatively speaking, I’m not very tall.

Was Ballet West your dream company? How did you get your contract?
It’s a little strange to say, but when I started auditioning for companies I just had a feeling I was meant to be at Ballet West. I did the open audition in NYC and eventually ended up at Ballet West on an 11-week supplemental contract. They needed extra girls for Swan Lake and a Balanchine program. I was so happy to be dancing with such an amazing company and thankfully at the end of my supplemental contract they asked me to come back for a full season. This is now my sixth full season with Ballet West.

Who are some professional dancers you admire?
I honestly have admiration for anyone in this career. It’s very difficult and we all have our own unique stories. No dancer has it easy. We do what we love, but there are definitely sacrifices we have to make. Like anyone in the arts, we aren’t compensated nearly enough for all the hard work. We move to whatever part of world we can find a job, and give up holidays with our families. It’s a very difficult career physically and psychologically. However I think we all realize how unique our careers are, and how special it is to be a part of the ballet world. It’s an honor to be part of a traditional art form that’s so much bigger than yourself.

 

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Favorite place to go relax and decompress from ballet world?
I spend most of my free time at home in my apartment on my couch with my pug, Mogli. He’s my best bud.

 

Favorite book?
Moon Palace by Paul Auster. He’s my favorite author. I love all his books.

If you could go back to you 16-year-old self, what would you tell her? What would you do differently?
I don’t think I would do anything differently because then I wouldn’t be who I am today. Though I wish some things had perhaps been different, I value the experiences and life lessons I had to face along the way. There are things I have learned in my 30s that I don’t think my 16-year-old self would understand. Sometimes we need to learn through experience and all those lessons happen in the right timing in our life.  At least that’s what I believe.

What were some of the “negative” things you were told as a student? How did it affect you?
I think as a dancer it is inevitable you will hear negative things and it’s up to you to determine how you let it affect you. I remember being told I was too uncoordinated to be a dancer. I was told by a very well-respected physical therapist that my body wouldn’t be able to handle a career in dance – that I would always be injured. I was told that if I didn’t train for a career when I was young that I would never make it as a professional. I believe that you are the only person who can determine your limits. It’s your choice whether you’re a victim of circumstances or if you chose to make your own rules and live life on your own terms.

What is the biggest advice you can give aspiring dancers?
Follow your passion and do what feels right for you. Your life is your greatest gift and you can write whatever story you want. Always treat yourself with love and respect. Take care of your body and your mental health. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want, but very often our biggest challenges are also our greatest opportunities for growth.


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Notes on Jetés… petit jetés… and awful petit allegro

Jetė

JETE a ballet educationThere is nothing in the world… and I mean nothing… better than a really good, really clean, really technical petit allegro. Yup, it can turn any bad day into a great day… or it can turn a great day into a crappy day depending on what side of the glass window you are standing on…. The problem is, most people are pretty awful at petit allegro, and a lot of the times at smaller studios, most teachers don’t really emphasize petit allegro causing there to be a lot of dancers to have pretty awful petit allegro skills…

I don’t even know where to begin about awful petit allegros… but I think I will start with petit jeté… Or in America, we just use jeté… but I love it…. I love them in petit allegro, in grand allegro, in random combinations… I love them in ecarté, turning, and with beats… I just in general love them… The problem… so many jetés out there are soooo sucky.

What good petit allegro looks like… and no I am not going to shame someone and post a bad petit allegro video… but trust me there are lots of them…

There are multiple approaches to jeté… again they vary by pedagogy. The first conversation to have how to approach a jeté.

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a. This is the way most schools around the US teach jeté. The idea is from fifth to throw the first leg, pass through a semi-second, and connect the coupé when landing in plié… There is nothing wrong with this, personally, I find it yucky… but then again I find a lot of things yucky in classical ballet. The idea is to brush to degagé height and bring the coupé to the first leg, and transition accordingly… If you are a ballet dancer, you will understand… if you aren’t a ballet dancer you throw your working leg into the air, but after the midway point and as you descend, your working leg becomes the supporting/landing leg.

b. The second way of looking at jeté is the way I was taught, the Balanchine way… To throw the first left to whatever height the music allows, and to connect the coupé as quickly as possible and maintain that shape while landing… Then as you grew up, the jeté may or may not become more stylized.
3:19 is the finale of Symphony in C by PNB

c. Finally, when I was older I learned the idea that every petit allegro step had to have two butts up… This concept is hit the height of the jump quickly and hit a clean second in the air, and cut to coupé while maintaining the height, then land underneath yourself… avoiding injury…

Where to put the coupe

Then we run into the issue of coupé… and where to put the coupé… when to connect it, and where to place it. Ideally, coupé back is coupé back, the problem is that we travel and move in time and space… This causes the coupé to move around and get sloppy… Then there is the idea of over crossing the coupé in the air that way when you land you are in a solid position when landing. I am not one to say one way or the other… Another issue people talk about is how high the working leg hits, which varies because different schools teach different degagé heights… Soo, again that varies but… usually I go through for a 45 degrees. When in doubt… keep a clean line either 45 or 90 degrees as a general rule of thumb for all of ballet.

Then you have the issue of leaning… really only choreography calls for leaning… and bending… and usually the choreography is Balanchine or contemporary pieces…

Finally, here are definite things to avoid when doing petit jeté:

  • do not travel forward more than one-fifth foot position front… Don’t get into the bad habit of traveling obnoxiously forward. If a jeté is a degage and fifth, you would only travel forward that one degagé closing from front to back forward.
  • do not travel randomly side… I hate when people do jetés obnoxiously traveling far… it looks weird and not precise. Petit allegro should look like a hibachi chef jabbing a knife into the bamboo between his fingers.
  • do not torque your hips, a lot of young dancers torque or shift their hips like doing the wave at a baseball game… They do it to gain height, which is actually counter productive to everything… and it is awful looking and spazzy…
  • do not grip your quads… use your abductors and the backs of your legs to make that sh!t happen in the air. To get a two butts up jeté you have to pop, but you pop from the pressure in your ankle pressing off the ground, and the backs of your legs snapping forward.
  • DON’T SICKLE or have biscuity feet…
  • don’t tuck your pelvis under or release it back to have duck butt
  • do not over compensate in the knees, that is how injury happens. When taking off and landing make sure your knee is moving over your second toe, and the weight is centered over the ball of your foot and the energy connects from the back of your leg, through your heel, into the ball of your foot… cleaner and safer take off and landing… the landing is the reverse.

Here are some things to work on to improve your jetés:

  • a lot of degagés…
  • jumping at the barre, practicing hitting a clean second in the air…
  • those awful things when you lay on your back and have your legs at 90, in a clean pointed fifth and you beat front back a million times… but this time hi 45 degrees open every time
  • line the barres like a gymnast’s parallel bars and press down on them to lift yourself off the ground and go over the motions military style… like by the number… that way you know exactly the where the clean positions feel on your body.
  • practice using a pilates reformer springboard

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5 reasons we fell in love with ballet

5 Reasons why we fell in love with ballet

Everything is beautiful at the ballet… Edward Kleban said it all in his lyrics for A Chorus Line… When we were younger something resonated with us and sparked the passion for dancing. I remember when I was younger I was obsessed with the Nutcracker. I would watch the VHS versions of Nutcracker (PNB & the Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland version then I added the Balanchine Version) back to back, every day. It was magical… As I am doodling on Instagram, this week’s theme is “My first Ballet Class” so it has brought back a lot of childhood memories… And so, I haven’t done one of these in a while, so tonight, as I neglect to clean my house, I give you 5 reasons why we fell in love with ballet…

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1. The Spectacle that is the Nutcracker… For a lot of us, Nutcracker was our first live ballet… Usually, it was a result of being in class and it was finally time for your first real ballet. It was the music and the costumes: Tutus bouncing up and down, skirts twirling, men’s jackets twinkling in the light, ribbons flowing in the air… and pointe shoes. It was the lights and the glamor: getting dressed up, the opera house lights dimming, the velvet curtain rising… It was everything that ballet is… enchanting.

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2. The Music. For some, it was the music. It is this epic music, full symphonic sounds and more than that… inspiring. Music for some dancers becomes the driving force of their careers, the ability to interpret music on the body— it’s inspiring.
3. The stories… for others it is the epic love stories, the tragedies that can’t be unwritten… the ability to become a princess, a swan and an enchantress, all in the same the night. It is the ability to forget who you are in reality, and be someone different. Who doesn’t want to escape and be a fabled princess, and get to live out your childhood heroines?
4. The Movement… it is the elegance, the posturing, the bravura of turns and jumps. The power of choreography says a lot. It is what makes a repertory live forever. The steps are just steps, but the movement itself can be inspired and brought to another level through artistry. I mean we have all seen really bad bourrés…. like really bad ones…

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5. And then there is the reason why I fell in love with ballet… a good ballet, meaning when the steps, the choreography, the dancers, the costumes the lighting all come together perfectly… it builds this adrenaline and once it is over it leaves you wanting more; much more. When a dancer is so generous with their soul, their artistry, their passion you become addicted to that dancer… It makes you want everything and then some… For me, it was Gelsey Kirkland in the first pas de deux (the music for snow PDD), it was Maia Rosal as the peacock, Lucinda Hughey as Dew Drop, Darci Kistler and Damian Woetzel as Sugar Plum & Cavailer, and Kyra Nichols as Dew Drop. These women to me were goddesses. They were gorgeous… They were everything that I admired in ballet… and probably the reason I am so obsessed with ballet…

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No matter what it was that made us start ballet… we started… and here we are as adults… either professional dancers, ballet go-ers, ballet lovers, and just in general ballet fans. When you start a love affair with ballet, it doesn’t really ever end. Even if your career ends because of injury, and you end up hating ballet… it is only for a while… But you always find a way back to ballet… you see a youtube video, or a performance, or something… no matter what it is… everytime you hear the music for Nutcracker, or you see a great performance on social media… you fall in love all over again…

Don’t forget … English National Ballet streams their emerging dancer performance live today!!! All six are super stunning but I am in love Rina Kanehara and Cesar Corrales… (11:25AM PDT)  http://emerging-dancer.ballet.org.uk

Happy Early Mother’s Day…

Happy Mother’s Day!!! (I’m posting early so I can spend this weekend with my mom *smiles*) And in honor of all of the ballet mom’s here is an old post dedicated to you! But this mother’s day I am dedicating it to all of the mom’s who are ballet dancers… First off, bravo you for pushing a baby out, but then going back to ballet, or even doing ballet up until delivery… Seriously… major props to you… Not only is being a ballet dancer hard, but juggling real life and ballet is hard enough… I couldn’t imagine juggling a baby too!!! Sooooo

I just finished the deal, but here are the new products in our store…. 3 SUPER CUTE baby onsies… They aren’t organic, sorry… They are actually 100% Spun Poly… in the sizes 3M, 6M, 12M, 18M, 24M- with the optional matching tulle tutu skirt on elastic… And by no means is the tulle pleated or anything like that… It is literally a DIY tutu… but it keeps the price down on all these hand designed things… Literally it would be like wearing one of my doodles/brushstrokes in real life… So here they are, available for preorders, shipping JUNE 1:

Ballet Baby

ballet baby

Serenade Baby

 

Princess Aurora

 

Notes on Pirouettes… en dehors… part one

I have been avoiding talking about anything at center as I am trying to focus on my book, BUT a lot of you have asked… a lot… So, when it comes to pirouettes, I probably could write a good 10 pages about them… With that being said, I was never a turner… In fact, I was mediocre back then and by today’s standards, I would be pathetic. I was consistently at a triple, and if I was really on my leg I could get in a fourth rotation, and the most I have ever done was six… And the last rotation was really turned in. I never really had a good turning coach, and probably could have really used one. So, I actually first learned how to turn in jazz class, which helped me when I focused on ballet because I was trained to turn the Balanchine way… But then, at CPYB… they kind of beat it out of me and I lost my ability to turn… Totally NOT blaming, I am saying that because I wasn’t a turner to begin with, it didn’t help that I never really had a super solid foundation… But once I went pro, all I turned was from a Balanchine fourth, and an overexaggerated fourth at that… Like super overexaggerated, I used to be in company class with my friend’s and I would turn from basically a runner’s lunge and try to end in an even deeper fourth… I enjoyed it, but it isn’t for everyone… So here: Part One of my notes on pirouettes.

Notes on Pirouettes a Ballet Education

What is a pirouette?
A pirouette (whirl or spin, which is the translation… but a horrible definition…) is an axial rotation on one leg that can be done either en dehors (to the outside) or en dedans (to the inside) in a variety of positions but the standard position is in passé. Which is kind of right and kind of wrong, because while turning… the passé has to change at different points in the turn. (If you have no clue what I’m talking about, I’m sorry… but I don’t want to break down the basics any more than that because it is all going in the book…)

The Prep (preparation): I am about to generalize a bunch of stuff right now, but I am trying to keep this post under 2,000 words, and saving the elaborate, non-generalized stuff for the book…

There are a variety of ways to approaching pirouettes, and most of them start with how you prepare… Yes, you can prep in fifth, which is actually how I teach pirouettes to young kids, but the standard is prepping in fourth. You can prep in either open fourth in plié, closed forth in plié, or what is called the Balanchine fourth… No matter what position you turn from you have to be properly aligned in the prep and the passé position.

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Closed fourth (straight back leg into plié): This preparation is probably the correct preparation to teach pirouettes from, especially for younger kids… like under 14. This preparation starts in a fourth position with the front leg bent, and the back leg straight, you can actually sit in this position without losing energy because the energy comes from the bending of the back leg at the moment you are about to turn.

Open Fourth (double plié): The preparation actually happens rather quickly, as the focus is usually on the transition to get into the fourth position to build momentum. This style of turning is usually done by super male technicians. The use these larger open positions to gather energy, and then control the aerodynamics and physics of the rotations by closing the aerodynamic space and speeding up the rotations… a lot like ice skaters… The arms in the preparation usually go from opposite fourth arms and the right arm opens to hit a la seconde as the “widest” moment… From the preparation, the fourth position rotates into a second position facing side and then pulls up into the pirouette… your weight, center, and the axis is always centered. You have to have a ton of control for this kind of turn…

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Balanchine Fourth (straight back leg): This preparation can’t really be static because the weight is forced into only the front leg. The arms are also elongated/reaching and not rounded. from this position… The energy goes up and forwards before turning… You actually don’t transfer your weight in this pirouette, or at least not as much because the weight is always in the front leg. The (working side) arm never opens to second… it pulls straight in. This method should be used for the more advanced student because it requires all of the strength to turn off of the standing leg. This method is really efficient as it doesn’t have a ton of weight shifting.

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The take off:
It is obvious that the force comes from the plié… but what happens a lot of the time is that students kill the plié… This means they lose the elasticity in the prep, or they forget to bend a little more right before the taking off… Another mistake is putting too much power in the plié and forcing the turn… Another boo boo students make is flailing their arms or throwing their working arm behind them before taking off…
Taking off:
The biggest problem while taking off, besides unpointed feet, or sickled feet… is overshooting or underestimating the line of balance… You have to move your body while rotating and hit your axis… It’s quite difficult and takes a while to know exactly where your center of gravity is in relevé passé and how much force you need to get there…

Adding force:
Rotating the passé adds more torque to a pirouette…
Controlling the rate your foot gets into passé increases g-force, just like bringing in your arms slower…
Raising your passé right before you end your turn adds an extra lift and controls the landing… usually you want to press down in the standing leg while lifting up in the passé to avoid hopping or swaying back.

how to turn

Spotting:
Two ways of thinking about spotting… the body turning first, and the spot follows, or the spot happens first and the body follows. Both concepts are correct and depends on the dancer’s needs… Personally, I don’t spot while turning, mostly because I can’t, or it actually slows me down… But then again, I’m not a natural turner, so I know what works for my body, and some of my students. Another think you want to avoid is locking the neck either forward and having “turtle-neck”, or backwards and have “double chin”… locking up the neck doesn’t allow for spotting… and who wants a double chin?

The Landing:
Most people throw away the landing, and it is a shame. It conditions the body to end a combination poorly. Before you land, you should always lift, and as a general rule of thumb both heels should touch down at the same time… I’ve seen a lot of dancers get the bad habit of dropping their supporting heel first and then swiveling to land, letting the working leg follow… It isn’t technically wrong but is a sign of lack of control and sloppiness.

Tips & Tricks from the teacher … me… well, I guess this whole post is tips & tricks from me… soooo… here are some tips and tricks for pirouettes when having a bad turning day… or you are just bad at turning.

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-make sure your core is really warmed up… even before going across the floor, I hop down to the ground and do some extra crunches…
-keep your neck relaxed and told hold tension in your neck or traps… hold it in your core…
-It is okay to just do a passé instead of turning… despite popular demands of teachers around the world… the more your turn poorly the more bad habits, and bad equilibrium compensation your body retains…
-pressing down into the standing leg relevé to center yourself is always helpful
-visualizing the turn can help as well… especially for those clean singles that end in relevé
-make sure your supporting leg is strong enough to turn on and that the back of your leg is the part supporting the turn while keeping the knee locked.
and the most important: NEVER EVER KILL YOUR PLIÉ!! the more you sit and wait… you lose the power to develop your turn.

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What is going on in ballet?

Now that I have caught up on work… I’ve had time to reflect on the YAGP… and other things…

what is going on in ballet

So, you went to a good school… big whoop. So did a million other kids, and guess what? Their careers didn’t turn out how they thought they would… Hahaha I make myself laugh. The world of ballet is going through a big change, and in America the change is happening rather fast…. So before we list off the BIG TEN, like we do every Summer… I would like to talk about the changes that are happening in American Ballet, well with all the changes happening… I don’t know much longer we will have American Ballet… In fact, I don’t know how long ballet is going to be a choice…  I remember when I was auditioning, as a boy… if you had a solid triple pirouette right and left, an easy double tour, and clean technique… you would get into a company. Yup, it was that easy… I mean it helped if you had beautiful body proportions, and it would help if you were flexible… But the reality is… You really needed just that. Nowadays, that doesn’t cut it for a boy… You have to be extremely flexible, have more than four pirouettes, and be musically gifted.This next generation proved that at the YAGP this year with killer technique, crazy tricks, and be primed for principal’s musicality.

 

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https://www.facebook.com/YouthAmericaGrandPrix/

This year at the YAGP, Joon Hyuk Jun won the overall Grand Prix, which isn’t a surprise. In 2014 he did well in Lausanne and landed him a spot a Royal Ballet Upper School. Additionally, if he didn’t win the YAGP this year, I am pretty sure he hasn’t medalled as a senior competitor… He would be joining the Korean Army for two years. Yup, it’s that serious for Koreans. It is why there are so many applicants at every competition. In order for a male to avoid joining the army for two years, they have to medal first or second at an international competition recognized by the Korean government.

So, with that being said, something is happening in ballet… The age of the baby ballerina is coming back… Young superstars are proving their self-worth via social media and now the guest artist position. A lot of superstars in ballet aren’t even joining companies, they are going from gala to gala, and company to company guesting. Additionally, this is affecting how students are taking class, and the overall goals for ballet students. Around the world, I’ve seen it all over social media, the demand for superb technique, and extraordinary body lines is higher than ever… There is also a demand for artistic superiority and maturity that used to be excused in young dancers, but now… even that is being conquered…

arabesque for boys

The ballet talent is overwhelming… and the maturity and artistry is growing… The issue now? Jobs… Jobs are very few to begin with in ballet, but now, there is so much talent, there is no room for error, or mistakes, or lack of technique. Everyone is gifted, everyone is has beautiful feet, everyone has extraordinary body proportions… It means that, the world of ballet is becoming smaller, and even more elite.  And this isn’t helping the world of ethnicity either… While Asian countries have been constantly adapting to the Russian school of technique because it works on their bodies, Asian countries have been putting out amazing potential… America has yet to overall put out one unique style, but the next generation of ballet dancers have already dictated what the “ballet look” is going to be… and that is: Hypermobile, Russian-trained talent.

This starts the debate between a ballet school and a finishing school… a lot of these elite schools around the world are now turning into finishing schools, while other schools are focused on the actual idea of teaching technique. A Ballet School is a facility supported by the faculty on teaching the basic ballet vocabulary through the advanced ballet vocabulary the best way they know how… While a finishing school, students are already expected to have a strong ballet vocabulary, and the focus is on pas de deux, variations, performance and quality… (dance studios… well we can talk about that later)

That is the thing, ballet comes in waves, and this wave of new talent, and this next generation of ballet dancers is going to be weeding out any slight chance of imperfection because… everyone is coming out of the woodworks with talent… This year at the YAGP… it was pretty obvious that everyone there was going to be getting a job, and taking away from the possibilities of “cattle calls”…

give ma job ballet

If you look at what American companies are hiring at the moment… from this season’s mid hires, to who they let go at the end of this season, to who they have announced in their new 2016-2017 rosters… It isn’t looking very good…  Not to mention… it is taking away jobs from Americans… but that is a little too political for my blog lol…While a lot of these students are coming from the companies’ home schools, most of these new hires were recruited from a competition in the previous years and they spent a year or two finishing. It is scary, because as I was hopeful for Paris Opera, they did not like the direction of Benjamin Millipede (POB trained but finished at SAB), and have tapped the super classical and super talented, female powerhouse Etoile: Auralie Dupont. PA Ballet took on Angel Corella (which as well all know, I disliked) and that has forced out numerous Balanchine dancers and he has hired all Latin dancers… Which is probably good because PA could use a little color. The shift is a cause from Artistic Directors looking at the future of ballet. Corps de ballet members are no longer becoming viable despite the experience as a seasoned corps dancer, as the corps is now becoming filled with exceptional talent: stronger body lines, more hypermobile bodies, and the sad part… these able bodies are disposable as directors can now just post on social media what they are looking for and hundreds of bodies will respond. It is scary to be dreaming of being a ballet dancer right now… because as much as you want it, if your body is not an “exceptional” body… It might not happen for you… just bad timing with the wave of talent… In Europe bodies are hand picked, but now in America, “exceptional” bodies are becoming more and more apparent because there is such a diverse and accessible levels of training throughout the US.

With that being said, as the list get composed for the BIG 10, I am going to be focusing on identifying the school as being a Ballet School or Finishing School… Since all of the major ballet competitions have wrapped up, I can now start adding data up, and going over what school graduates will be joining what companies… It is a long process, but it is worth doing… But remember, these lists are totally subjective…

ballet top ten companies in the world

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Jewels… doodles available in my doodle book, available online

 

Notes on Body Types…

Firstly, before I start my long, and much-needed blog update on body types, I want to say, “Thank You.” The amount of support and followers and all of that has been mighty overwhelming. I am pleased to also say that this week I got to send out eight checks to students around the US to go off to their summer programs. I am not going to list the students out of respect to their financial situations, the fact that they are minors, and the way others will view them at their summer courses. Scholarship applications will be open again January-March 2017. Hopefully, with all of the sales throughout the year, I will be able to help more students!!! Thank you. To help support this scholarship fund click here. I have been really overwhelmed by the amount of e-mails I have been receiving and promise to get a better handle on the influx of emails. My friend Edgar has jumped in to help me at the warehouse, so I have more time to answer emails. Also this week the shop is going to have 8 new shirts added… Kind of excited…. So, a big thank you. Also sorry that I am going to have to start watermarking like crazy… people have been stealing and trying to sell my work… sooo everything is going to have these SUPER UGLY watermarks from now on…


proportions of ballet

Now, onto Notes on Body Types…

I have talked about the ideal body type… (click here to read that one) and height stuff… (click here to read about that) and how body type effects casting… (and this one)

Now it is time to really talk about body type and how this all factors into the big picture of ballet. Classic body proportions in art has been determined by 8 heads, the idea that if you take the height from top of the head to chin, the rest of the body proportionally you add seven heads… In fashion the standard is 9. The body of the female ballet dancer follows that of a fashion… but more compact… While the ideal female model is 5’9″-6’1″, the ideal female ballet dancer is 5’4″-5’9″; but with the same proportions.

ballet body types

In ballet, however, we make exceptions to the rules of proportion based on height… So here I have drawn this random, kind of awful sketch of body types…

A. The ideal body type in ideal proportions. Usually includes hypermobility in the joints,a narrow pelvis, an average torso and long extremities. (basically, like every Russian girl) They can be any height, they just carry the ideal proportions of ballet…

B. The shorter torso girl in ballet, is usually on the shorter side, and their body type is slightly more athletic, this body type was more common, but unfortunately we are seeing less and less of it. These bodies are still in proportion but compact.(aka, Ashley Bouder, Leta Biasucci etc)

C. The tall girl… They usually have elongated torsos, but are on the taller side of life. (aka Teresa Reichlen, pretty much everyone at PNB, etc)

D. The broader body type, there is room in ballet for a wider body type and we see it on women like Carrie Imler, Kathleen Breen Combes, Sara Mearns… By no means are these women fat, or large- their body types or bone structures are just broader. This body type is actually one of the more common American body types.

These four body types are the most common in ballet. Very rarely do we see a body type outside of these four. Does this mean that if you don’t fall into one of these categories you will never be a professional ballet? By no means, it just means you have to find the right company for you. This means you have to find companies who have your body type in the corps.

Now, within these four body types there are tons of variations… High arches, hypermobility, a meatier arch, long toes, the list goes on. That is the wonderful side of individuality and genetics… But unfortunately, there are some curses when it comes to ballet. The first is flat feet. Without the arch, it is harder to complete a line… It isn’t impossible. You can cheat bad feet with bangin turnout, or really strong toes. It isn’t impossible. Just means you have to work differently. Another curse in ballet is being knocked kneed.

knees and ballet

a. Knocked knees, this is a really hard curse to overcome in ballet. It changes the line of the body, and changes the shape of the muscles.

b. Hypermobility is key in ballet, but can also be a curse if overstretched and not properly trained.

c. Bowlegged… pretty common in ballet, because it is usually combined with hypermobile knees. It just means you have to be more in tune with your body while landing from jumps.

So, with all this talk about body type… There is a reason behind it all… BODY LINE

notes on body line

All of these factors really only come to play when talking about body line. The line of the body is the key to ballet. These lines are created by the negative space of the body. It creates the shape of arabesque, attitude, and even the space between the fingers… It is all relevant. It is probably why teachers yell to keep the focus of your eyes, because even that completes the line. Everything in ballet is determined on body line. For example, if you point your foot parallel to the ground and were to draw a line from your ankle, through… the line should un-waiver and hit at your big toe, or your toes should be below the line… It is how you can determine whether or not a student is ready for pointe, or if a student might be more successful en pointe. The wing in a foot creates a more curved line, and a more flexible instep creates another curve. The longer the foot, the more length it gives a dancer in their legs… The list goes on… The more curves your body makes, the more lines and the more interesting negative space can be created. Dancers with hypermobile backs, or hypermobile hips allows for endless possibilities when it comes to shapes.

Now, the body type can also be altered by muscles as well… If your body is prone to building muscle, then it can change the shape of the body. If your body is in perfect proportions, but you have tight tendons and closed hips (no rotation or turnout) well… that is going to be another obstacle to get over.

If you are a thirteen-year-old girl, and you are freaking out because your body is changing, don’t worry- every girl in ballet goes through it. It is one of the scary things in ballet, is that nothing is ever certain… just like injuries… So… I can now answer questions that have been written in (condensed a bunch as well):

Q: My body has changed a lot now that I am sixteen, and I don’t have a “good” ballet body, what should I do? I don’t know how drastic your body has changed, but if your body type isn’t the ideal ballet body, and you aren’t getting into summer programs, and you want to dance there is are hundreds of dance careers out there… Teaching, choreographing, writing, production, administration, and development/fundraising. You don’t have to give up on ballet altogether. Additionally, there are other genres out there… ballroom… contemporary… modern… post modern… broadway.

Q: I am very hypermobile and don’t know what to do? It means you need to take tons of pilates classes and cross train in a pool. Don’t stand in first with your ankles apart, and don’t grip the hypermobility as well. The majority of dancers out there are hyperextended in the knees… it just means you have to work smart.

Q: I have short legs, will I still be a dancer? Ummmm… no one can say if someone is going to be a dancer or not be a dancer… It is very hard… and the ballet world is very fickle… If you have short legs and a long torso that is hypermobile, you actually might have a stellar arabesque line…. So, there is no answer to that…

Q: I diet, I cross-train, I dance every day but can’t lose weight… what should I do? So, if you are doing all of those things, but you aren’t losing weight… it could be that you are overdoing your body and you’re are exhausting your body. Sometimes, dancing every day is a bad thing… especially for young girls who are pre-teens. During puberty your body is already going under a lot of stress because of growth plates and tendons… add over stretching and constant physical demands of ballet… your body might be exhausted. It might just be best to take a break for 10 days, let your body readjust and start again… Also, you could be starving your body… which is TOTALLY NOT GOOD… dieting doesn’t mean starve yourself…. despite popular belief…. you actually have to eat quite a bit as a dancer, but you have to be fueling your body correctly throughout the day to prepare you for the dance load you have that evening.

Okay then… hope you enjoyed… don’t forget to follow me on facebook and instagram… This week’s instagram theme is: BAD GIRLS OF BALLET: kicked it off this Sunday with Carabosse from “the Sleeping Beauty”

carabosse costume design

 

Notes On: Getting Extension… to the side…

Extensions in ballet are everything… Well extensions are also everything on social media, but social media is a whole different post. But extensions in ballet… truly are everything… It is the difference between getting a contract and not getting a contract, it is the difference between being cast as Odette … or not. You get the idea, or at least I hope you do. My original post about tilting your hips has kind of come under a lot of fire, which is totally cool… Everyone is entitled to their own pedagogy and ballet ideals. But a lot of you have asked some questions, so I am here to answer some of them. In ballet… a la seconde or side or perfect side or whatever your natural turnout decides what side is… well it is really confusing and quite difficult. And truth be told, I had no clue what any of it really meant until I became a teacher…

Developpe Poster 1

Side Action… first we have to determine what is side. For some schools- it is about the natural turnout and you draw a line from the second toe outwards (i)… Other schools teach that side is in line or slightly in front of your shoulder (ii) and some schools teach that side is behind your hip line (which only works if you are freakishly hypermobile or flexible, iii). This is all determined by turnout.

what is a la seconde a ballet eduation

 

Okay, okay… Now onto the good stuff… Getting your leg up. You can just hoist your leg up, you have to use the back of your legs. If your teacher is one of those sticklers for being square, which I totally don’t disagree with, you only have to follow a and b.

a-b. From passé, you rotate slight forward to an attitude position and lift your knee as high as it can go while your hips stay square. You have to seperate your femoral head while rotating it to get to this position. then you just have to extend the heel forward till your leg is fully extended. Yes, you use your heel as the guide of your extension, not your knee. If you are focusing on your knee… you get massive quads and can grip. You have to really use opposition to achieve the back of your legs. The oposition comes from really pressing your psoas and core downwards.

square extension what is a la seconde

c-e. I teach my students to start shifting their weight into their standing leg, and aligning the opposing hip. I tell them to use the full power of the backs of their leg to rotate forward, bring the leg even more slightly infront of their body allow the look of maximum turnout. Then bring the knee into the front of your armpit using your psoas, and pressing down through the student’s core to get the maximum stability and correct tension saving the hips. Then guiding through the heel, like the later part of a ron de jambe en l’iar. So instead of thinking of extension as a line, you have to think of it as a circular motion… like turnout… like everything in ballet. Use your hamstring to supply the support needed. But the higher your leg gets, the easier it should feel. It is simply physics, as the weight is now all shifted into your standing leg, freeing up your working leg.

f. Then, for those students who are hypermobile, and have mastered the ability to rotate the extension upwards, I let my students shift their weight even more into their standing leg, and then like a teetertotter shift their hips even more to get those last six inches of extension. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, so you have to be strong and pretty advanced to achieve it.

more notes: Tilting your hips on the plane of turnout is not the same as lifting your hip. Lifting your hip usually reffers to your booty and pelvis tipping forward. You have to understand your hip anatomy in order to really understand turnout and a la seconde. You never want to lift from your quads. Again work from the back of your legs! If you don’t know how, read my notes on how to work from the backs of your legs. Your hips have to be really warmed up and stretched out before your attempt this… Don’t be one of those kids sitting in their room reading this and then just go try it… It is why barre is structured.

Diagram of hip for ballet


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la bayadere cast 1

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Purple Rain Forever

I only want to see you, only want to see you
In the purple rain

prince purple rain

Prince has always been a big supporter of ballet… if you didn’t know…. before he partnered up with Misty Copeland he lent his music to Joffrey Ballet for the ballet Billboards. It premiered January 27, 1993 in Iowa.  The crazy part about this ballet is that it is choreographed by four different choreographers. Actually, this ballet has been a part of my life for a long time. When I was younger at a studio I danced at, there was a signed poster of all of the Joffrey Dancers and Prince hanging in the big studio.

Sorry there is no music- it is copyrighted. But this ballet made me realize that there were hundreds of ways to combine genres of dance. And I knew… classical ballet was never going to be my dream… I wanted to move in hundreds of ways… But then I got hooked and addicted to Balanchine technique and that was that (lol).

I also went to school in Minneapolis and there is a bar there called First Ave where I spent quite a few nights… First Ave is where he basically grew up playing and basically supported the bar over his career making guest appearances and showing up randomly.

In 2009 Prince asked Misty Copeland to join him in his cover of Crimson and Clover and then became a muse to Prince. Prince then donated money to American Ballet Theatre. 250k to be exact.

So, as we lost this great artist— for me, I will remember his contributions to the ballet world and how it has changed the color of ballet, changed choreography and the way we perceive ballet.